- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2003

In a world of violent video games, where dexterity of the thumb and index finger is infinitely more important than the flexing of the cerebrum, there must be a place for children and their parents to interact and actually learn something from that overpriced multimedia computer/gaming system. Take a deep breath and enter the ROMper Room, where learning is a four-letter word — cool.

A legendary troll helps reunite mothers and their young and teaches children a bit about African animals in Hugo: Heroes of the Savannah. Using characters from the popular 10-year-old Danish cartoon “Hugo the TV Show,” the game features five challenges that will either bore or frustrate the multimedia-savvy 6- to 12-year-old crowd.

The title requires no installation, immediately loading to an animated segment introducing the principals and the story of an exhausted stork who needs Hugo, Fernando the toucan and Jean Paul the monkey to help deliver his last three eggs.

As the gang hangs out around Hugo’s hut, a hot-spot loaded screen is the springboard to getting into the challenges. With little instruction, children might click on an egg to get involved in a side-scrolling adventure, touch a camera to go on a photographic safari, click some cards to play a clever version of Concentration or view 22 very grainy videos of beasts on the savannah.

Players uninterested in a little education can pick an egg to control Hugo in a very difficult video-game journey. It has him sprinting through a cartoony African environment, avoiding baboons with an attitude and collecting an inventory of objects used to get through a gantlet of moving animals and pitfalls while ultimately and unspectacularly delivering the prize to mom.

Fernando and Jean Paul get the same treatment, through much easier games that have the toucan soaring above the lands while avoiding floating elephants and the monkey bouncing among the trees.

For those hoping to learn something from the title, I recommend starting with the terrible-looking videos to get a narrated, encyclopedic primer on the 12 or so animals highlighted in the photo and matching games. Otherwise, players will get a bit annoyed trying to employ their photographic creativity, under the pressure of a time limit, when asked to identify and shoot a photo of a strange animal with no resource on the screen to know what it looks like.

The videos are more handy when one is playing a clever round of Concentration. Here, the child must not only find pairs by turning over squares, but then also relate them to an item residing on the side of the screen. For example, find a match, then guess what the animal might eat, or match a pair of footprints and then guess what animal left them.

The quirky software occasionally made my screen go black, but it could be cajoled into returning to the action with a bit of clicking and finger crossing. Hugo’s major issues, however, lie in a learning experience that lacks the clever brilliance of competitors such as Disney Interactive, Knowledge Adventure and Infogrames.

Hugo: Heroes of the Savannah, ITE Media $14.98, for PCs with at least the Windows 95 operating system.

Surprisingly, Hugo’s daughter, Trollerut, fares much better on CD-ROM in the biology-based adventure Hugo: The Secrets of the Forest. Developers must have had better design tools to bring this troll world to life through prettier animation, gaming creativity and a map menu that comes to lush life when clicked upon.

Eight strange games await players who learn that Wicked Witch Scylla has turned a class of schoolchildren on a nature walk into stone for accidentally picking an item she needs for a potion.

Trollerut, Spike the hedgehog and the player must collect various ingredients to form the antidote to bring the children back to life.

Of the challenges, the 6- to 12-year-olds will get a kick out of controlling a white corpuscle that happens to be a martial-arts expert as it battles viral bad guys in the nose of a hare with an Elvis complex. I also loved assembling a skeleton and guessing what animal it came from in the Valley of the Bones, serving meals to hungry beasts in a hilarious diner atmosphere to gain a coveted lucky fork and controlling an ant colony as in a Sims-like simulation.

Strange happenings, yes, but families will appreciate the narrated bio facts that come on fast and furiously during the action, and any educational game featuring a rabbit that looks and sounds like the “king” is all right with me.

Hugo: The Secrets of the Forest, ITE Media $14.98, For PCs with at least the Windows 95 operating system only.

ROMper Room is a column devoted to finding the best of multimedia edutainment. Write to Joseph Szadkowski, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send e-mail ([email protected]washingtontimes.com).

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